By Brandi M. Seals
Mackinac Island has long been a tourist destination in Michigan. This island, located in the Straights of Mackinac, is located in Lake Huron as it separates the Upper Peninsula from the Lower Peninsula. Visitors that take the ferry from Mackinaw City to the south or St. Ignace to the north will have a 20 minute boat ride to the island that features views of the Mackinac Bridge to the west.
Mackinac Island is like a place out of time. The 4.4 square mile island features Victorian architecture and does not allow motorized vehicles on its streets. Those that live, work and visit the island get around on foot, horse, carriage, and bicycle. An 8 mile long road encircles the island and interior of the island is carved with roads, and trails. Maps of the island can be obtained at the visitor’s center located near the docks. The road that surrounds the island stays close to the shoreline. It is M-185, a state highway. It is one of only a handful of highways in the U.S. that does not allow motorized vehicles.
The island features a small airport, Fort George, tourist shops that sell the best fudge ever, and the Grand Hotel. The Grand Hotel is a large beautiful hotel near the center of the island and serves as the only large-scale housing option available to visitors. The Grand Hotel opened in 1887 and features 385 rooms. Each room is unique. No two are the same.
The Grand Hotel is elegant and formal, like something out of “The Great Gatsby.” When dining at the Grand Hotel, guest must dress for dinner. That means a coat and tie for the men and dresses or pantsuits for the women. While staying in the hotel, keep your tips to yourself. Tipping is not expected and it is not permitted. Instead it is an added charge included in your daily room rate.
If the Grand Hotel is not your cup of tea do not worry. There are also several smaller hotels and bed and breakfasts that guests can stay at.
Mackinac Island gets its name from the Ottawa or Chippewa word, Michilimackinac. The word has been translated to mean “large turtle” which the island definitely resembles. Note that Mackinac is pronounced Mack-in–w. The c is silent. Most places with the word Mackinac in it retain this original spelling, but Mackinaw City, on the coast of the Lower Peninsula, is spelled with a W so that it the word looks the way it sounds.
The island was at the center of the area fur industry starting in the 17th century and continuing as such up into the start of the 19th century. The Mackinaw Fur Company merged with the Southwestern Fur Company and formed the American Fur Company.
Mackinac Island was once in the hands of the fur-trading but the island changed hands to the British during the French and Indian War. The British maintained control of the island for awhile, even following the Revolutionary War. They built Fort Mackinac on the island in the late 1700s before giving the Fort to the United States in 1796. The British were not gone for long. They recaptured the fort in the War of 1812 and held it despite attempts by the Americans to regain control. The British held the fort until the end of the war, when it was returned to U.S. control by the Treaty of Ghent in 1815.
Mackinac Island went through some changes and has been a tourist destination since the early 1900s. It was once the second made national park in the United States. In 1875, most of the island was named, Mackinac National Park. Yellowstone was made the first national park only three years earlier. After Fort Mackinac was decommissioned in 1895, the land was returned to the state of Michigan and the area became Michigan’s first state park, Mackinac Island State Park.
People live on Mackinac Island year round. Approximately 500 call Mackinac Island home 365 days a year. The residents live mainly in a historic community located on the southern tip of the island and in the community of “Harrisonville” which is farther inland. During the resort season the population increases 30 fold. The island can accommodate an average of 15,000 people per day.